My grandpa would turn 95 this week. He was a man of few words, yet in his eighty-three years of life, he always managed to say a lot without saying much at all. He was a skilled craftsman, a pianist and a researcher of all things Ireland, a passion drawn from the deep pride he had in his Irish heritage.
He was born and died in the same town where he married my grandma and raised eight children. He sang in the church choir, volunteered for the little league when my uncles played, and made it to Ireland three times with Grandma before the effects of renal failure took hold. I’m not quite sure if Grandpa truly believed in the “Luck o’ the Irish,” being the practical person he was, but I know he celebrated over four-leaf clovers and raised mugs of Guiness far more often than simply during the annual Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.
My grandfather’s life was not always easy or financially secure. My perspective of him is unique to me as I wasn’t raised by him and I didn’t know him in his youth. However, I was fortunate to have him in my life for over thirty years as he taught me not through words, but by his example- lessons I still reflect on today. As his granddaughter, I never heard him complain or vent. I watched him study, evaluate, reflect, and choose his words carefully. I always believed he was a safe person to sit with, to ask questions of and to expect honest answers from. I recall sitting on the couch beside his recliner, watching him close his eyes and cross his hands over his heart. I too would close my eyes and enjoy the quiet, with only windchimes tinkling in the background, as only an introvert can. I believe that’s something I inherited from him. It’s something my son inherited from us both.
I recognize the differences of our life experiences. Grandpa lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, life without computers, the advent of television; I’ve lived through the Internet, touch screen phones and social media, a time when untruths can be spread with the touch of a share button. His final job was as a public servant, an elected official of Silver Bow County. He didn’t cook, grocery shop or clean. I’m a teacher, like to organize and purge things I no longer need. He liked beer, I prefer wine. He played the piano and organ, I can’t play anything other than chopsticks.
Yet, I also recognize the similarities between us. We both like to read and study subjects of interest. We become obsessed with natural disasters and tragedies, unable to turn off the news. We’ve both witnessed injustice and prejudice- he likely followed the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I advocate against racism and will proudly march against social injustice. We both love learning about and researching our family history. We both believe in the power of the truth. We think before acting and don’t let emotions guide us. We are reflective and choose our moments to speak up when we see injustice, untruths or fallacies. These similarities…his quiet strength…are what I draw from daily.
I remember one day when I was still in college, driving up to land my uncles purchased and were framing a cabin on. Grandma and I packed a picnic lunch and I was enjoying my time as a runner of tools and board holder, while also staying out of their light. My uncles were having issues putting up the framing. I don’t remember what they were, but I do remember my grandpa leaning back and assessing for several minutes. Finally, he spoke to describe his ideas and how he felt the problem could be fixed. Within minutes, the frame stood.
When I think back on that moment, I remember the person I want to be. A servant leader. A reflective thinker. A quiet presence. A silent observer. A speaker of the truth. A humble person, not looking for anything other than to fix what is broken, to repair what is damaged, to stay grounded in a time of confusion and darkness.
I’ve made mistakes. My grandpa made mistakes. I am imperfect. Grandpa was imperfect. He said things he regretted. I say things I regret. Yet, as he did, I am reminded of how fortunate I am through challenges and loss. I smile when I think of Grandpa, knowing that the man I hugged for the final time over a decade ago, is still with me. His calm spirit and steadfast resilience remain a part of me and for that, I am forever lucky.